Tag Archives: Philip Glass

Music of our time: premiere recording of lost Philip Glass manuscript challenges the current crisis

If, like me, the music of Philip Glass was a brash, strident and hypnotic part of your growing up, listening to the forthcoming premiere recording of the reconstructed Music In Eight Parts throws open the door to your childhood, and immediately ushers in the familiar stark architecture of Glass’ soundworld that Music in Changing Parts, Music in Twelve Parts, the exuberant 1,000 Airplanes on the Roof and other works created for this impressionable teenager.

Sol Lewitt: ‘Open Cube in Black and White,’ image courtesy of Karkow Witgin Gallery, Boston

As soon as the recording began to play, I was back in my teenage years again, listening spellbound to Glass’ music that was utterly unlike anything I’d heard before, being a classical pianist and steeped in the traditional classical orchestral fodder. Glass’ bold, and at that time refreshingly modern combination of saxophones, voices and electric keyboards, brought an invigorating chamber ensemble sound endlessly turning in and around itself, creating an apparent aural contradiction between a sense of stasis with a slow process of incremental change, all topped off with a restless textural surface, that you don’t really notice if you’re not paying close attention; for me, it was (and still is) endlessly fascinating. I recall a schoolfriend yelling ‘This has all the appeal of listening to A DRIPPING TAP!’ in exasperation at my nth playing of Einstein on the Beach. I could see how this might be, but only if you weren’t listening properly.

Philip Glass in 1993. Image: Pasquale Salerno

And that’s what Glass’ music does best; it dances away on the surface, but if you engage with the unfolding process and the commensurate different rhythmic patterns that evolve, it becomes something completely beguiling. Sometimes, the rhythmic patterns become incredibly nimble, the music dancing on its feet, as the material ducks and weaves through asymmetrical patterns. (Around eight minutes in, it suddenly blossoms and becomes, well, funky, too).

Since the manuscript vanished after a handful of performances in 1970 (only surfacing again in 2017 at an auction in Christie’s), the piece has been reconstructed for the line-up of the Philip Glass Ensemble, the group formed by the composer in the late 1960s and dedicated to taking Glass’ robust chamber music to the masses.

And it’s a recording for the times, too; with performances of the work across Europe cancelled in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, the recording has been assembled from each member of the ensemble recording their part in isolation. Listening to the music unfold for the first time since 1970 under these circumstances, it assumes a greater, almost unstoppable momentum, powering ahead with a relentless force that declares that, even in these challenging times, the power of music will continue.

The premiere recording of Music in Eight Parts by the Philip Glass Ensemble is released on May 22 on Orange Mountain Music.

Music, science and beauty in the everyday

Exploring the intersection between science and music this morning, in preparation for a project which will take place next spring.

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A combination of music and images from cutting-edge research in the School of Biosciences will aim to highlight moments of beauty in in the mundane, or more functional, aspects of the scientific environment. Bringing together piano works including pieces by John Cage, Tarik O’Regan and Philip Glass, the experience involves drawing out the aesthetics of the laboratory environment and the scientific process, aspects which are often overlooked or ignored.

8F7F26F0-597F-40E0-9F34-CA8FBFF48A06 webThe project, in collaboration with Dr Dan Lloyd in Biosciences, will be unfurled next spring.

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Tomorrow belongs to those that can hear it coming: David Bowie

The world mourns the passing of the extraordinary David Bowie; like Miles Davis, someone ceaselessly reinventing himself in order to ford a new direction.

Photo: Adam Bielawski
Photo: Adam Bielawski

The man, like the music, refused to recognise boundaries. Bowie was present at the European peremiere of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians; the affair with Minimalism continued in the Low Symphony and Heroes, in which Bowie’s music is seen through the eyes of Philip Glass. As Glass himself observes in the interview below, Bowie’s music ‘went beyond the niceties and the categories of pop music.’ Glam-rock; ambient; the Berlin Period; pop; the stylistically-eclectic Black Tie, White Noise; the music refuses to behave, to fit neat categories.


A dedicated instigator, not follower, of fashion, Bowie has been called a ‘professional suit-wearer,’ attuned as he was to the power of the visual spectacle.  Acting, composing, performing; Bowie’s career was lived like the opening of Let’s Dance, a in a state of continual lift-off, always moving forward, and ready to break out into something new. It’s impossible to hear that wild, visceral introduction and not be grabbed by its sense of lifting you up. The start of New Killer Star, the opening track on ‘Reality,’ feels like some long-limbed insect struggling awkwardly climbing into view before it launches into flamboyant, swaggering rock (flam-rock ?).

BowieA true Everyman; in his different stage creations, his flamboyant outfits and swaggering musicianship, he spoke to you in a way that made you feel his music was addressing you, and you alone, that showed you that being different was something good, some thing of to be proud. The poet John Siddique put his finger on it earlier, writing on Twitter ‘Thank you for helping make room in this world for the strange arty kids.’

The RCA advert promoting Heroes carried Bowie’s own line, ‘Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.’ He certainly did that. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues, to mourn the death by celebrating the music.


Heart of Glass: #EarBox at Studio 3 Gallery

The collaborative #EarBox series exploring the resonances between visual art and music continued yesterday, with a recital of piano music by Philip Glass by Your Loyal Correspondent over in Studio 3 Gallery in the School of Arts’ Jarman Building.

It was fantastic to play for such an attentive audience, who listened to a selection of the piano Etudes, Opening, and parts of the music to The Hours and The Truman Show. The dim-lit gallery space allowed room for contemplation and reflection, in a programme of music where the use of pattern, repetition and shifting tonal colours responded to the Palindrome exhibition currently adorning the gallery’s walls.

Thanks to Katie McGown for the photos. #EarBox will return: watch this space…

Find out more about Studio 3 Gallery and the latest exhibition here.

GlassWorks: #EarBox returns to Studio 3 Gallery

The second event in the new #EarBox series takes place next week, on Thursday 26 February at 4pm; GlassWorks is an exploration of piano music by Philip Glass amidst the current Studio 3 exhibition, Palindrome, performed by Daniel Harding.

As usual, visitors can travel around the gallery exploring the artwork, or simply sit and listen to the performance – or do both. The recital programme will include two of Glass’ Etudes, and sections from his soundtracks to The Truman Show and the BAFTA award-wining film, The Hours.

WP_20150210_12_50_38_ProGlassWorks opens an evening in which artists Brian Rice and Richard Rome (featured in the exhibition) will be in conversation with curator, writer and expert on British art, Ian Massey: details here.

Admission is free.


Turn it up: Jonathan Harvey on concert audiences and amplification

In a recent article, composer Jonathan Harvey proposes abandoning the idea of conventional audience behaviour at concert halls, in a bid to attract younger audiences.

Jonathan HarveyI’ve written previously about expected audience behaviour, as it’s important to make music accessible to everyone without burying it beneath all manner of stultifying conventions that will almost certainly put people off, especially younger audiences who are potentially the Ticket-buyers of Tomorrow. The almost religious state of obeisance required to sit still and attentively through classical repertoire is alien to those who attend jazz gigs and rock concerts. Clap in the wrong place during a symphony, and you’re greeted with icy stares or patronising glances: clap after a particularly fine instrumental improvisation at a jazz gig, the musicians will nod their thanks.                      

Harvey advocates amplifying music in performance, standard practice in rock and jazz gigs but greeted with a sharp intake of breath at classical concerts.

“There is a big divide between amplified and non-amplified music. The future must bring things that are considered blasphemous, like amplifying classical music in an atmosphere where people can come and go … and certainly leave in the middle of a movement if they feel like it.”

Leave in the middle if they feel like it ? Blasphemous indeed, perhaps – to some. But precisely this premise was part of Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson – written in 1976, the opera lasts for around five hours, and consists of nine scenes linked by short interludes known as ‘Knee Plays;’ there is no plot, and the audience members are free to enter and leave when they wish.

Harvey has composed in the electro-acoustic field as well as traditional choral and instrumental works: Le Tombeau de Messiaen is composed for piano and tape;  Mortuos Plango, Vivos Vocos whizzes the tenor bell of Winchester Cathedral and voice of a boy soprano (Harvey’s son) around in space, whilst Speakings portrays the birth, development and establishment of language and is written for orchestra and live electronics.  His choral compositions range from the dancing Virgo Virginum to the beguiling mesmerism of The Angels. 

There is of course a divide between audiences for classical concert repertoire and jazz and rock lovers: but as composers such as Mark-Anthony Turnage and Tansy Davies are proving, it’s not an insurmountable one. (Frank Zappa’s The Yellow Shark, anyone ?) And if you go to a concert given by groups like Icebreaker or to hear music by Steve Reich, amplification is almost de rigeur.

Harvey makes the prediction that “if orchestras and conductors hang on to the orthodox method of performance they will end up playing to empty halls.” Whilst one hopes fervently that this will not be the case, there is surely some room to accommodate new ways of listening to music, in a way that will attract younger audiences: isn’t there ?